Why did we found FOLX Health?
Why do we need a Queer-centric digital health platform now?
Like many companies, FOLX grew out of stories.
I can’t count how many times I have had the following conversation: Yes, I’m sexually active. — No, I don’t use birth control. — No, I’m not worried about getting pregnant. Then comes the awkward pause and the confused look. And I usually wait a beat too long because I’m a smartass. And then I add, I don’t need a lecture on how babies are made — I’m not having any of the kinds of sex that would get me pregnant.
And I would get different versions of the stories from friends of mine of other LGBTQIA+ experiences:
My wife and I were required to see a social worker before we started IVF. She was nice enough. But she seemed to spend most of the visit asking countless questions about what it was like for us as a cis-lesbian couple. And then she veered into a lengthy monologue about how great it was going to be to have two moms raising one kid. We came out of the session feeling like we were a circus act and like we had wasted an hour.
I went to my doctor to ask about PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV). I thought it would be simple and like I was being responsible. Instead he was asked, "Why do you want to do that? Are you planning to be risky? Are you planning to cheat on your boyfriend?' I felt attacked and ashamed. I haven’t been back since.
When I decided I was interested in transitioning I didn’t know where to go. I didn’t want to go to my family doctor. I just felt like he wouldn’t understand. I spent a lot of time online trying to research the options. I finally found a clinic a few towns over that some friends had gone to. They were friendly enough, but it was like being interrogated. The doctor kept asking me all kinds of questions about how long I had been living as a man and whether I had attempted suicide. I felt like I had to justify myself over and over again. I left saying I would think about it. I eventually decided to order hormones online from an overseas pharmacy. It was basically illegal but it was just easier than going to the doctor’s office.
For many in the queer community, these kinds episodes are the best we can hope for. Seven percent (7%) of cis-gay men and lesbians, and 22% of trans/non-binary people report being actively assaulted in health care settings.
We need something better. We deserve something better.
So how do we begin?
We begin by dispensing with the notion that health care is just about “diagnosing & treating” disease. The diagnostic model is part of the reason why the healthcare system remains unable to build truly patient-centered services. The diagnostic model gives medicine the power to name what is ‘normal’ — what is ‘healthy’. And for the Queer community, the notion of ‘normal’ has always been used against us. Until the 1970’s being Gay was a mental illness. In the 80’s & 90’s, our lives were labeled ‘high-risk.’ And even today, we are the exception — the special case. And to be clear, diagnostic & curative science is essential. But it is just an instrument toward the greater end of human health & happiness.
So what do we build in place of the traditional model of care?
We start with the reasons people seek care; wholeness, safety, happiness, belonging, pleasure, family and identity.
For the Queer community it begins with support to:
Love whom we want to love
Shape our bodies as we see fit
Freely explore and express our gender & sexuality
Form & grow our chosen relationships & families
In any and every way that gives us the greatest consensual happiness & freedom.
Then we use these values to define how we deliver our services and how we define success. We start with basic offerings and we attend to every aspect of the experience. We measure success by whether each client meets their goals. We enlist the best Queer-competent practitioners in the country to help us build safe and effective protocols that speak our language, understand our culture & history, respect our choices and regard our lives as the defining paradigm. We remove all the unnecessary barriers to care. We make the interaction simple and transparent, all while following the best clinical practice. We trust our clients to be able to choose both the means & the ends of the health services we provide. We make our clinicians available anywhere by the simplest means possible. We make our prices fixed, transparent and as low as possible. And while we generally don’t accept insurance, we price our services so most can afford them. And let’s face it, most of us are paying out of pocket even when we have insurance.
Once launched, we plan to add more to our menu of services until we are able to say that every Queer person in America can live, love and be fully themselves.
Thank you for joining us on this adventure.